There are a handful of questions I ask aspiring writers to answer to determine if they have a good grasp on their concept or if their proposal could be a viable option for publishing. The first question is this: “Who are you serving?”
Many times, the look I receive in response is wide-eyed and uncertain. If an aspiring author isn’t keenly aware of their reader–who they are, what they are like, or what they need–it is a clear indicator that the person I’m speaking with isn’t quite ready to pitch. Knowing your reader is arguably one of the most essential aspects of the writing process. To speak directly to the needs of the reader, an author should have a deep and abiding understanding of their life stages, challenges, unique struggles, and desired outcome or felt need.
How does a writer uncover these facts?
There is a tool I use every time I prepare to begin a project, big or small. I build an empathy map. An empathy map is simply a tool to help you sift and sort through your thoughts and understanding of a particular segment of your readers. And it is important to note that any given project can have more than one reader avatar. So, this tool can be used for all types of readers and will give deeper insight into the wants and needs of your audience.
Begin with a blank sheet of paper, and draw a circle in the center. In the middle of the circle, write down everything you know about your reader. For example, when I wrote my last book, I had three primary readers in mind; I named them Chloe, Jen, and Erin. I named my secondary reader Suzy Church Lady. I completed an empathy map for each persona. In the center of Chloe’s circle, I wrote down the important details about her life. She is young and newly married. She just had her first child, longs for connection, struggles with loneliness, and is desperately anxious. Take a moment to jot down all of the important details about your reader in the middle of the page.
Divide the rest of the paper into four quadrants by drawing a vertical line through the center of the page and another line horizontally through the middle. Label the quadrants the following categories: Thinks, Feels, Does, Wants/Needs.
This is where the fun begins. As you walk through the process of writing the thoughts, feelings, and actions of your target reader, you can really get into their head and shape your content to meet their needs. Let’s go back to our friend Chloe. Under the Thinks column, I would write, “This is not the life I wanted.” Or “Why is making friends so hard?” In the Feels section, I would make note of her feelings in isolation, her disappointment, and her longing for connection. In the Does category, I detail her inability to connect in person and her daily habit of doom-scrolling for friends on social media. Simultaneously, in the Wants/Needs section of the map, I organize the list of things she wants and needs. She wants friends. She wants answers. She needs instruction and encouragement.
How does a writer use these facts?
Do you see how this can help you grasp your readers’ felt needs and why they would want to purchase a book on your topic? If you can understand your readers’ wants and needs through empathy mapping, you can build and tailor your content to meet them in their struggle. Your words can be a well-thought-out lifeline to them and offer them the things they need to accomplish their goals or aims. Empathy mapping can be a handy tool to dive deeper and create content that truly speaks to those you hope to reach.